Despite assurances from Ohio coaches that they would send their top players in order to maintain the Pennsylvania/Ohio rivalry that has developed in recent years, Ohio's North-South all-star classic conflicts once again with the Big 33, and again, the Big 33 game will suffer from a weaker than normal matchup.
Pennsylvania too is missing some stars from the roster, notably Pitt bound quarterback Pat Bostick of Thomas Jefferson, however future Nittany Lions Chaz Powell of Susquehannock and Stefen Wisniewski of Central Catholic will be missed. Pennsylvania will be led by Liberty's Dan Persa and Saint Joseph Prep's Chris Whitney, both of whom are deceptively fleet footed, and should do well under the modified rules of the Big 33 game. Persa in particular looked sharp in Monday's practice action, and will present quite a coverage challenge for Ohio's small defense. While neither Pennsylvania quarterback boasts a cannon, both show good touch and impressive mobility, and will be threats both on the ground and through the air whenever they touch the ball.
Rather than focusing on the Lions who will not be stepping onto the field for Pennsylvania, we will look at the ones that are. This list begins with Nathan Stupar. A legacy product of State College High School, Stupar has earned the respect of his teammates, and practices with more intensity than anyone on the field. Listed at 6'2", 220, Stupar is seeing most of his reps at OLB, or at standup DE, switching up occasionally to offense to take snaps at TE. Pennsylvania has no linemen who can stand up to Stupar, who may well be the best player on either squad at this year's classic, and could follow a developing Big 33 to PSU linebacker pipeline that has included Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee in recent years.
In practice Tuesday afternoon, Stupar dominated Pottsville's Brad Hallick, who drew the ire of firey McKeesport High School coach George Smith. A repeat of the play brought the same result, with Hallick left empty handed as Stupar blew by him. Stupar also had his way against Pitt recruits Chris Jacobson and John Fieger, and will make his presence known in the Ohio backfield on Saturday.
Derek Moye was also impressive at WR. Moye seems destined to play WR exclusively in the Big 33, as the coaching staff appears to be actively looking for ways to get the ball into Moye's hands. Listed at 6'5", Moye is taller than any other WR or DB on either squad, and the staff will use that height advantage against Ohio's smallish defensive backs. West Virginia bound Will Johnson (6'3") is the tallest listed DB on the Ohio squad, and the Big 33 rules that reward a passing game should create plenty of opportunity for Moye to have a breakout game. Moye also tossed a nice pass off an end around, and was used in a series of reverse packages. Marcus Payton (Maine) also worked out exclusively at WR, while the remaining players including Drew Astorino rotated series on offense and defense.
Astorino is a solid physical specimin for his size. He has the capability to be a difference maker in the Big 33 game, and a solid work ethic that will play well in his development at Penn State. While I would classify his chances of early playing time as low, Astorino is the type of tenacious player who is likely to work his way into a role at Penn State.
In other notes, C.J. Marck of Pennsbury East sat out drills on Monday awaiting MRI results from a minor bone bruise, but is scheduled back on the field for today. Marck is an strong looking back, and will provide a nice change of pace. I expect most of the RB duties to be handled by Pitt bound Henry Hynoski and Daryl Robinson, who will likely make an immediate impact at Temple after backing down from an early committment to WVU.
FOS will bring you continuing updates from the Big 33 all week long.